Joyful Text Creation

There’s nothing more wonderful than hearing learners say “let’s keep doing this!” “do we have to switch, I’m doing some really important work right now.” It’s wonderful when it’s a room full of teachers who are taking time to engage in joyful text creation as learners.

All literacy learners need to know how to interpret and compose text, it’s essential for full and active participation in many communities. As educators, we all want to support our learners as they develop their many literacies and grow as active and engaged citizens. We also want to co-design learning experiences with our students that are joyful, that motivate them to engage with, to apply and explore their literacies outside of our classrooms. img_9357

In a personalized, student-centered approach to learning, learning designers often begin by considering the learners they serve and asking: what are their interests? What are their abilities? What might be their next steps? What might be joyful and engaging for these powerful, capable people. As teachers, putting ourselves in learners’ shoes can help keep the learner at the center of the learning  design process. Which is why this experience might be a place to start when thinking about designing joyful literacy experiences with your learners. Start by experiencing joyful text creation. Try it yourself or with your colleagues. Reflect on it, then consider: how might I co-design a joyful literacy experience for and with my learners that gives them a similarly joyful, engaging experience?


For this experience I used the ideas of Lynda Barry, Elise Gravel and Angela Stockman and put them together to create an opportunity for learners to create a non-traditional text in a scaffolded way. Follow the steps below or listen here for Lynda Barry’s instructions in her own words. You will need a piece of paper (scrap paper is great) and a pen or pencil. Add crayons, markers and other materials as you see fit.

  1. Divide your paper into quarters (one line horizontal, one line vertical) to give you 4 frames or square
  2. In the first sure, draw a squiggle. In the second, a closed shape. In the third, a line. In the fourth square, another squiggle
  3. Then take 1-2 minutes to turn each line or squiggle or shape into a monster. (You know what a monster is–crazy amounts of arms, eyes etc. they have teeth, maybe fur…you got this.)
  4. Put the monsters aside and write down a “To-Do” list of 10 things that you should be doing (sentence starters you might use include ” I really should…” “I’ve been meaning to…” “I have to…”)
  5. Now stop. Have a look at your monsters. Take a good look at them and consider your list. Which one item from your list best matches your monster? Write that in a complete sentence under that monster–like a caption (You will not use every item on your list, much like writers don’t fully develop every single one of their story ideas)
  6. Repeat that process for the rest of your monsters.

What you’ve created by putting together images and captions is a text. Some may call it a comic. Whatever it is, you’ll have experienced success creating a text that included images you created playfully and words that are meaningful because they are from the fabric of your life. That text might even make you smile or giggle.

Next, if you’d like to gauge your audience’s reaction to your initial creations, try this silent feedback protocol I picked up and adapted from Angela Stockman’s Make Writing.

(**This unfolds in silence. no explaining your work–this is your time to enjoy and react to your colleagues’ or classmates’ creations.)

  1. Take a pen or pencil with you
  2. Wander away from your own text and have a look at the texts others have created
  3. If any comic or any panel causes a reaction in you (a “me too!” feeling, a little snort, an “oo, that’s interesting”), any reaction, draw a little star beside the monster

When you return, have a look at the stars–the feedback at the point of need–that your audience left for you. What seemed to resonate with your audience? What part of your work are you most please with or inspired by? What surprised you?  Use your answers to these questions to take your work even further, if you like.

If you want to, you can take inspiration from Elise Gavel’s I Want a Monster! and you can further develop your monster–train it, deciding what special skills it has, and ponder its favorite foods.img_9360

When I walked around the room as I worked through this process with learners, I noticed people enjoying playing with crayons and shape and line. I noticed everyone could write a “to-do” list, and they enjoyed deciding what monster needed to do what. Some people couldn’t leave only stars as feedback, they were compelled to write “I hear you, sister!” and “yes!” in response to the monster. No one left to go to the washroom, or checked their email…they were engaged. They were creating something that mattered. I wondered: How might different teachers use or adapt this for their learners, their context? How did taking time to put ourselves back in the place of learners change the way we thought about designing joyful literacy experiences?

I realized that we need time to remember: we are all capable. We all have many literacies that we bring with us into learning and we love to be social in our literacy experiences. It was joyful to engage in creating, sharing and giving and getting feedback on the texts we’d all created.